Opinion
Teaching Opinion

A Culture of Gratitude

By David B. Cohen — September 28, 2016 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

I began to notice a difference three years ago, when my school’s current seniors were freshmen in my English classes. Certain students, habitually, and regardless of the lesson, walked out the door with a variation of,

Thank you? That’s not the usual routine. Ordinarily, the bell rings, and students are packing up, rushing out, thinking about their next class, their next break, their friends. They’re already texting and snapchatting, barely noticing I’m still in the room.

Now, I was not only being noticed, but also appreciated. It’s one thing for a student to say thank you after some individual help, or after having something handed to them. But for some students, this was a standard valediction. Thank you... for monitoring small group discussions? Thank you... for trying to make a joke, even though no one laughed? Thank you... for assigning that homework?

The gratitude has persisted to the present day, spreading to other grade levels. It’s not every student, certainly, and not every teacher has made the same observation. For me, it seems like 20-40% of my students (currently in grades 10-11) say thank you as they leave class at least half the time. Even if it’s not a majority of students a majority of the time, the effect is palpable. It signifies appreciation, by definition, and who doesn’t like to be thanked? But beyond that, it shows respect and trust, and helps maintain relationships and communication.

I asked my colleagues for their impressions, to see how my observations matched others. Many responses validated my view that the thank you trend goes back no more than three years, and that it makes a positive difference in our school culture.

My colleague in the English Department simply beamed. “I love it! It feels good that they notice how hard I’m working.”

In the choir room, it’s mainly the freshmen that the teacher hears offering gratitude: “Even when they are being tough many of them say thank you and have a nice day and it puts me in a better mood for sure.”

A Spanish teacher says, “I find it very touching, actually, that students have decided (or been reminded? taught?) to say ‘thank you!’ at the end of nearly every session of class. I think it’s beautiful. It’s a small but poignant way to express gratitude towards me, their teacher. Other cultures honor teachers more than the U.S. does. I am not sure who influenced our students to thank their teachers daily, but it seems to have come from someone or somewhere. Often I thank my students as well. It’s a nice ‘feel good’ way to end each class.”

From a history teacher, I heard, “I think it is a good thing that students are treating adults with respect, and appreciation. I think it creates positivity and it enhances school climate. I try to treat my kids the same way and I thank them for coming to school each day. The positive back and forth has been great.”

An art teacher said of the practice, “While I can’t comment on the origins, I can tell you it is a very rare and beautiful behavior. I suggested to my daughter that she try it out at her high school and she thought I was nuts - no one does it in most high schools. The effect on the classroom climate is wonderful. I think students see other students doing it, then start doing it themselves. It heightens their awareness that they have something to be grateful for. And it is a daily reminder of how grateful I am to teach these polite, curious, and respectful kids. I am more likely to be empathetic if a student needs special help or allowances. It creates a mood of mutual respect in the classroom. I have often said with gratefulness and forgiveness we are much better people.”

One of our recent hires from Michigan* had a strong reaction: “This practice absolutely floored me when I first started teaching here. Never once in 18 years of teaching in Michigan did I ever have a student thank me as we wrapped up for the day. They would say thanks for something out-of-the-ordinary that had happened, but certainly not on a regular basis. [Here], I just stared at them as they filed out of my first class, thanking me. I still have a tendency to say ‘thank you’ in response to them, which is probably an odd reaction, but it still catches me off guard. I think it has a huge effect on culture, and at the very least, it makes me feel good.”

There’s more than anecdote and speculation to support the idea that gratitude has value for both the person receiving it and the person offering it. This is a trend worth encouraging. In a follow-up blog-post, I hope to add student views to help explain what sparked this positive development in our school culture.


*Post-script, tangential question: why would our school in California have the opportunity to hire three experienced teachers leaving Michigan in the past two years? Is it the unconstitutional pay cuts for teachers? The punitive approach to school accountability? Is it the intended consequence of policies that destabilize and replace schools and teachers? All of the above.


Photo: a collection of students’ gratitude mandalas in the classroom of Palo Alto, CA elementary school teacher Jennifer Harvey, by David B. Cohen.

The opinions expressed in Capturing the Spark: Energizing Teaching and Schools are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Opinion The Classroom-Management Field Can’t Stop Chasing the Wrong Goal
And, no, new social-emotional-learning initiatives aren’t the answer, writes Alfie Kohn.
Alfie Kohn
5 min read
Illustration of children being cut free from puppet strings
Daniel Fishel for Education Week
Teaching Photos What School Looks Like When Learning Moves Outside
One class of 5th graders shows what's possible when teachers take their lessons outside.
1 min read
Teacher Angela Ninde, right, works with students in their garden at Centreville Elementary School in Centreville, Va., on Sept. 7, 2021.
Teacher Angela Ninde, right, works with students in their garden at Centreville Elementary School in Centreville, Va.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week
Teaching Opinion Wanted: Students to Write About This School Year
Classroom Q&A is inviting teachers to have their students write about their school experiences for publication here.
1 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Teaching If Outdoor Learning Is Safer During COVID, Why Aren't More Schools Doing It?
Teachers and advocates tout the benefits of outdoor learning, but there are barriers for some schools, including the risk of gun violence.
9 min read
Angie Ninde leads her class through a math lesson outside at Centreville Elementary School in Virginia on Sept. 7, 2021.
Angie Ninde leads her class through a math lesson outside at Centreville Elementary School in Virginia Sept. 7. The risk of COVID-19 transmission is lower outdoors, so some schools are trying to take classes into the fresh air as much as possible.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week